George Harrison: “I was the one responsible for getting Ringo in the group. Every time Ringo played with us, the band just really swung then. I did conspire to get Ringo in and talk to John and Paul until they came around to the idea.”
Paul McCartney: “We really started thinking that we needed THE great drummer in Liverpool. And the great drummer in our eyes was this guy called Ringo Starr.”
John Lennon: “I think Ringo’s drumming is underrated the same way Paul’s bass playing is underrated.”
As for the acerbic and oft-shared anecdote, attributed to Lennon when asked if Ringo was the best drummer in the world - “He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles” - Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn has determined that those words did not originate with Lennon but with comedian Jasper Carrott in 1983. In this instance, urban legend tale-twisting (“If it’s on the internet, it must be true!”) was twisted further by “official” outlets assigning the quote to Lennon. Said Lewisohn: “John Lennon never said it and wouldn’t have said it, and that is the London Times quoting him!”
Casual listeners know that Ringo sang “Yellow Submarine” and “With a Little Help From My Friends,” and they probably know that he wrote “Octopus’s Garden,” but his greatest recorded contributions to The Beatles run much deeper. Interestingly, most of them appear on songs primarily written by John Lennon.
“Ticket To Ride” (“Help!” 1965) Starr’s distinctive driving fills propel this John Lennon song with a thunderous beat, providing (with Paul’s bass) a heaviness to match the lyrics. Ringo often played to the lyrics and this is a perfect example.
“She Said She Said” (“Revolver” 1966) Again, those fills (the result of being left handed but playing a right-handed kit) make the song. Listen carefully to what Ringo is playing on this recording. He’s all over the kit but always “in the pocket.” If he had merely played it straight, it would have been a decent performance on a very good Lennon song. Instead, Ringo made the song great.
“Rain” (B-side to “Paperback Writer” 1966) Something was in the water at this time. Even Ringo was knocked out by his work on this one. “Rain blows me away,” he said in 1984. “It’s out of left field. I know me and I know my playing. And then there’s “Rain.”
“Tomorrow Never Knows” (“Revolver” 1966) An outrageously great Lennon song taken to the next level by Starr’s drumming. Inspired by the gorgeously recorded sound of his kit (thanks to engineer Geoff Emerick’s close-positioning of microphones, compression on the drum signal and the addition of a wool sweater in the bass drum), Ringo kicks this groundbreaking track into overdrive. To think that was recorded about two and a half years after “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is almost inconceivable. When Don Draper heard it (in season five, episode eight of “Mad Men”), he was shaken with the realization that the future had arrived. For toppers, Ringo (famous for Yogi Berra-like malapropisms) gave this song its title, casually tossing it off in response to a reporter’s question two years previous and making Lennon laugh at the same time.
“A Day In The Life” (“Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” 1967) Phil Collins said it best in a 1992 documentary on the making of the “Sgt. Pepper’s” album: “I think he’s vastly underrated. The drum fills on “A Day In The Life” are very complex things. You could take a great drummer today and say, “I want it like that.” They wouldn’t know what to do.”
“The End” (“Abbey Road” 1969) Ringo hates drum solos - another reason to love him. For the final track (except for 23 seconds of “Her Majesty”) on the last album recorded by The Beatles (“Let It Be,” recorded earlier, was issued the following year), each Beatle took a solo beginning with Mr. Starkey, who needed some persuasion. “I said, ‘Well, a token solo?’ and he really dug his heels in and didn't want to do it,” said Paul McCartney to Mark Lewisohn. Ringo’s solo lasts all of 15 seconds, but it accomplishes what few have: it leaves the listener wanting more.
In a future column, we’ll examine some of Ringo’s post-Beatles greatness.
Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band are set to play Cross Insurance Center in Bangor on June 8 at 7:30 p.m. Ringo’s All-Starr band includes Todd Rundgren, Steve Lukather (Toto), Gregg Rolie (Santana, Journey), Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Gregg Bissonette (ELO) and Warren Ham. Tickets are available at www.CrossInsuranceCenter.com , in person at the Cross Insurance Center box office or by calling (800) 745-3000.
“The Big Morning Show with Mike Dow” can be heard on Big 104 FM – The Biggest Hits of the ’60s, ’70s & ’80s - airing on 104.7 (Bangor/Belfast), 104.3 (Augusta/Waterville) and 107.7 (Bar Harbor/Ellsworth)